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Economist Kaye Husbands Fealing to Lead NSF’s Social Science Directorate Announcements
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Economist Kaye Husbands Fealing to Lead NSF’s Social Science Directorate

February 29, 2024 418

Kaye Husbands Fealing, an economist who has done pioneering work in the “science of broadening participation,” has been named the new leader of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. When she takes the helm on April 22, she will replace Sylvia Butterfield, who has served as interim head of the directorate since the death of Kellina Craig-Henderson last April.

Husbands Fealing is currently the dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and has chaired Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy. She has longstanding ties to NSF, having developed and then led its Science of Science and Innovation Policy program and co-chaired the Science of Science Policy Interagency Task Group (which the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Policy Council had chartered). Husbands Fealing has also been an Economics program director at the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate (SBE).

The NSF cites Husbands Fealing’s work in the science of science and innovation policy, the public value of research expenditures and the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields and the workforce. “Kaye has an excellent track record of fostering scientific discovery and the mission of NSF,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, “and she brings the kind of enterprise focus that we need to promote the progress of science and advance the nation’s health, prosperity, and welfare.”

SBE supports fundamental research in behavioral, cognitive, social and economic science. It is the smallest of the seven research directorates at NSF, but the quarter billion dollars it allocates in grants annually is a primary source of funding for academic basic research in the social sciences in the United States.

Born in Barbados, Husbands Fealing came to the United States and settled in Brooklyn with her parents when she was around age 8. She shared with the American Economics Association memories of “listening to discussions about economics at her kitchen table and sitting in on the economics courses her father taught at Montclair State College in New Jersey.” The apple didn’t fall too far from that tree, and she in turn would earn a bachelor’s in mathematics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in economics from Harvard University.

She took a teaching position at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1989 and in the next 20 years moved up to full professor and department chair.  During her time there, Husbands Fealing researched the impacts of the North America Free Trade Agreement and of Japanese-American trade competition, studies that fostered an interest in technological innovation. From Williams she accepted a post at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and served as a study director for the National Academy of Sciences and in 2014 moved to Georgia Tech.

During her career Husbands Fealing has worked to broaden participation in the sciences, including calling for organized study of the pertinent issues that enhance of impede participation by minorities, women and the disabled. Drivers of this focus include here own experiences as a Black woman in economics. As she told the AEA’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession, “[Y]ou either decide you are going to walk away from it and think ‘why bother?’ or you think, ‘I have ownership of this, and there is no reason someone should be able to push me aside.’”

At NSF, Husbands Fealing chairs the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering and is a member of the Directorate of STEM Education Advisory Committee.

This dedication has been recognized. Last year Husbands Fealing received the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award – awarded to an individual who has furthered the status of women in the economics — from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. In 2017 she received the Trailblazer Award from the National Medical Association Council on Concerns of Women Physicians.

She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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